If you’re finding yourself feeling mentally foggy and unable to concentrate, you could be suffering from brain fog.
Brain fog brings on symptoms like memory issues, a lack of mental clarity, and difficulty focusing. You might feel like you’re literally in a fog; you can also feel sluggish and exhausted. It’s kind of like having brain fatigue, making it difficult to get through the day even if you’re feeling otherwise healthy.
There are a number of potential causes for brain fog—and ways you can find relief.
See also: 5 Ways Yoga Boosts Brain Health
What causes brain fog?
Brain fog typically doesn’t appear as a standalone health concern. It’s a symptom that’s linked to a few different underlying causes.
A number of health changes can result in brain fog. Hormonal changes, like those that happen during pregnancy or menopause, can cause it. Certain medications, such as blood pressure medications or chemotherapy drugs, can bring it on. A number of medical conditions are also known to cause brain fog. It’s particularly common in conditions that are tied to inflammation and blood glucose levels, like hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases and diabetes.
Viruses and infections can also cause brain fog. Even if you believe you’ve overcome a particular virus or viral illness, the effects can linger within your body, causing aftereffects as your immune system still works to clear out any suspected viral proteins.
Brain fog can even be brought on by chronic stress and a lack of sleep. Mental fatigue is a side effect of stress, and as your brain becomes exhausted, the symptoms of brain fog can start to appear.
Perhaps the most unexpected underlying cause is your diet. If you aren’t getting enough vitamin B12, you may begin to experience the symptoms of brain fog. Vitamin B12 helps ensure healthy blood and nerve function, so unusually low levels of this particular vitamin can make your thinking feel fuzzy and cause fatigue.
See also: 5 Ways to Increase Your Energy With Your Diet
How food can help combat brain fog and its symptoms
Whether your brain fog is brought on by a vitamin deficiency or another health concern, there are certain foods you can eat that may alleviate its effect on your daily life. Try adding these foods into your diet, and you may find some relief.
Eat brain-friendly foods
Certain foods are rich in nutrients that feed your brain—or help your brain operate smoothly.
Omega-3 fatty acids, for example, are fantastic for both your brain and your nervous system. Two particular omega-3s, EPA and DHA, have been shown to play a role in maintaining brain health throughout your life. They’re found in brain cell membranes, and they work to keep those cells healthy and communicating properly. Without enough omega-3s in your diet, you could experience faster brain aging and a smaller brain size overall.
Flavonoids are another important brain nutrient. These plant-derived compounds work like antioxidants, reducing damage-causing free radicals and calming inflammation. Flavonoids can also have a protective effect on your brain, potentially blocking plaque buildup and increasing blood flow.
Foods with these nutrients can enhance your overall brain health, which may have a positive effect on brain fog symptoms. Try these foods, which are rich in flavonoids or omega-3s:
Dark chocolate or other cocoa-based foods
Fatty fish, including salmon, trout and sardines
Shellfish, including shrimp, clams and scallops
Berries, including cranberries, blueberries and strawberries
Leafy greens, including spinach and broccoli
Incorporate energy-boosting foods into every meal
Fatigue often accompanies brain fog, leaving you feeling both sluggish and sleepy. Instead of relying solely on caffeine to keep your energy levels up throughout the day, try eating foods that can combat these symptoms.
Dark leafy greens, for example, offer more than flavonoids. They can also combat fatigue thanks to their high levels of vitamin D, vitamin C, iron and nitrates. Research shows that even a single serving of leafy green veggies daily can slow the rate of cognitive decline. All of the vitamins and minerals in these powerful plants can also combat brain fog culprits like iron and vitamin deficiencies. All kinds of dark leafy greens, like spinach, collard greens, kale and chard, are great choices.
Avocados are another energy-boosting food. Packed with healthy monounsaturated fats, avocados can deliver lasting energy that helps you feel more awake all day long. Other nutrients, like magnesium and potassium, encourage blood flow to keep your brain running optimally. In addition to your energy levels, avocados also contain lutein. This is a carotenoid that’s present throughout brain tissue, and it helps overall brain function and can play a role in clear thinking.
Try foods rich in choline
Choline may not be a nutrient you look out for regularly, but it’s fantastic for brain fog. All of choline’s benefits are centered within the brain—it helps key biochemical chain reactions, plays a role in basic brain functions and affects brain cells directly.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, choline helps the brain create acetylcholine, a protein that plays a role in memory and overall cognitive ability. Eating a lot of choline visibly affects your brain’s health too; MRI scans show that choline-rich diets are connected to healthier brain tissue. Making sure you get enough choline could help counteract the effects of brain fog overall.
It’s a good idea to aim for between 425 and 550 milligrams of choline per day. Try adding choline-rich foods like the following into your diet:
Fish, specifically salmon, cod or tilapia
Other lifestyle changes can also make a difference
In addition to adjusting your diet, it’s also important to recognize that other lifestyle changes can also help you deal with brain fog. Overall, sticking to healthy habits can ensure you’re doing everything you can to keep your brain in its best possible shape.
Exercise is also beneficial for brain health. Regular exercise can lead to all kinds of cognitive advantages, including a decrease in atrophy and increases in blood vessels and synapses. Even if you aren’t feeling well enough to tackle an aerobic workout, low-intensity mind-body exercises like resistance training or yoga are great ways to get moving.
It’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough sleep. Cutting your rest short each night can make brain fog worse, adding to the fatigue, fuzziness and general lack of concentration.
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